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Undefeated Tufts Downs Volleyball in NESCAC Opener

Abbie Wibbelsman

NEW LONDON, Conn. – The Connecticut College volleyball team fell to undefeated Tufts by a 3-1 decision in the NESCAC opener for both schools on Friday evening at the Charles B. Luce Field House. The Jumbos won by set scores of 25-10, 25-20, 23-25, and 25-9.

With Rachel Furash serving, Tufts scored the first even points of the opening set to and never looked back. Maddie Stewart recorded three kills and Furash dropped a pair of aces during the hot stretch. Connecticut College took a timeout to regroup after falling behind 12-4 and got a kill from junior Katie Howley (Scituate, Mass.), but they were unable to gain any momentum. Brigid Bell extended the Jumbo lead to twin figures at 16-6 with a kill before Cate Desler eventually ended the set by finishing a pass from Rachel Furash.

Connecticut College was much more competitive in the second set. Despite falling behind by a 7-2 score, the hosts were able to close the gap by most notably getting service aces from sophomores Emma Roberts (Port Washington, N.Y.) and Eliza Wolcott (San Francisco, Calif.) which made it 16-14 and prompted a Tufts timeout. However, the Jumbos regrouped and embarked on a 7-1 run to regain a comfortable advantage which they would never surrender. A Camel service error gave the Jumbos the set and a commanding 2-0 lead.

The Camels continued to show improvement over the course of the evening by winning the third frame. Christina Nwankpa was caught out of position, committing a ball handling error, and the Jumbos misfired three times in the early going to allow the hosts to start strong and earn leads of 8-3 and 13-8. Tufts slashed the deficit to one at 13-12, but a service error by Furash ended an attempted rally. Howley broke an 18-18 deadlock with a kill to give the Camels the lead for good, and a double block by freshmen Christina Leduc (Mendon, Calif.) and Annie Wibbelsman (Pacific Palisades, Calif.) on a swing by Cate Desler gave the hosts a 25-23 set win.

Tufts, however, recovered and came out firing in the fourth set to win the frame handily as well as the match. Stephanie Lee, who played her first set as the team's libero, recorded a service ace to give the Jumbos an early 5-1 advantage and a lead they would never relinquish. Jennifer Ryan teamed up with Nwankpa for a block and then smashed a kill to make it 12-4 to force a Camel timeout, and the visitors ended the set on a 4-0 run to take the match and remain undefeated.

Nwankpa led Tufts (8-0, NESCAC 1-0) recorded five blocks and hit at a jawdropping .857 clip by registering 12 kills and not committing an error on 14 attacks. Stewart recorded a team-high 14 kills, while Furash added 26 assists, five digs, and three aces. Sophia Acker contributed a game-high 19 digs from the libero position before Lee took over the role for the final frame and provided five.

Howley was a bright spot for Connecticut College by contributing a double-double with 13 kills and 17 digs. McGee finished the game with 33 assists, six aces, and four digs, and Wibbelsman ended the evening with seven kills.

Connecticut College (4-4, NESCAC 0-1) will close out the weekend when it hosts Bowdoin tomorrow afternoon at 2 p.m.